Monday, November 29, 2010

Boosting Business Communications on a Budget

Boosting Business Communications on a Budget

My Thanksgiving break was somewhat productive. I not only put together some news writing curriculum for a class I'm going to start teaching at work, but I also finished my first book, which is available on for only $2.99.

You can buy it here or you can visit and if you click through to from the KUHF page, a portion of the sales will go to Houston Public Radio.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The quiz for those who know everything

There are only nine questions.

This is a quiz for people who know everything!

These are not trick questions. They are straight questions with straight answers.

1. Name the one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends.

2. What famous North American landmark is constantly moving backward?

3.. Of all vegetables, only two can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons. All other vegetables must be replanted every year. What are the only two perennial vegetables?

4. What fruit has its seeds on the outside?

5. In many liquor stores, you can buy pear brandy, with a real pear inside the bottle. The pear is whole and ripe, and the bottle is genuine; it hasn't been cut in any way. How did the pear get inside the bottle?

6. Only three words in standard English begin with the letters ' dw' and they are all common words. Name two of them.

7. There are 14 punctuation marks in English grammar.
Can you name at least half of them?

8. Name the only vegetable or fruit that is never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form except fresh.

9. Name 6 or more things that you can wear on your feet beginning with the letter 'S.'

Answers To Quiz:

1... The one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends: Boxing.

2. North American landmark constantly moving backward: Niagara Falls .
(The rim is worn down about two and a half feet each year because of the millions of gallons of water that rush over it every minute.)

3. Only two vegetables that can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons: Asparagus and rhubarb.

4. The fruit with its seeds on the outside: Strawberry.

5. How did the pear get inside the brandy bottle? It grew inside the bottle.
The bottles are placed over pear buds when they are small, and are wired in place on the tree. The bottle is left in place for the entire growing season. When the pears are ripe, they are snipped off at the stems.

6. Three English words beginning with dw: Dwarf, dwell and dwindle...

7. Fourteen punctuation marks in English grammar: Period, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, apostrophe,question mark, exclamation point, quotation mark, brackets, parenthesis, braces, and ellipses.

8. The only vegetable or fruit never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form but fresh: Lettuce.

9. Six or more things you can wear on your feet beginning with 'S': Shoes, socks, sandals, sneakers, slippers, skis, skates, snowshoes, stockings, stilts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another weekend sails on by

It was a dreary weekend in Houston. The rain started late Friday night and left a chill in the air for the first time this season. The upside to the chill was that it made spending a rainy night in the boat bearable as it would have been a sweltering sauna during the summer. It also gave me a chance to check for leaks, and it looks like we're down to just the leaky control panel, which drains straight into the bilge, so that's a plus.

I did learn the lesson that storing guitar strings on a humid boat doesn't work too well. The strings come in little moisture absorbing envelopes. Of course, when the air in the boat has too much moisture, you end up with sopping wet envelopes. The strings still seemed ok. They hadn't rusted yet, but I'll make sure to put the next ones in a ziploc.

Friday night we spent the evening catching up with one of our Marina del Sol friends and discovering that Captain Morgan's Lime Bite Rum tastes like Pledge. Honestly, we should have wiped down all the woodwork while we were drinking to see if it would shine the teak. Of course, after half a bottle, it started going down much easier.

Saturday I felt a bit like this poor guy.

Googley Eyes

However, making breakfast in the galley for the first time got me feeling better.


I had used one of the alcohol burners on the old Origo stove to test the percolator a couple months ago, but this was my first attempt at cooking. The boat didn't catch on fire, so I'd say it was a success. However, it seems that despite both burners being freshly filled with alcohol and being open all the way, the left one was a bit hotter than the right one. In fact, once the pancakes were done, I had to switch the coffee pot over to the left burner to get it to percolate. Go figure.

I'm not actually sure how much alcohol to pour into the Origo burners before use or how long the alcohol stays in the burners before evaporating off when not in use. Guess I should investigate that, so I can figure out how much stove fuel I need to carry when in transit.

Lack of alcohol burner knowledge and proficiency aside, my pancakes were still good enough to get this hungover mess out of bed.


The rain was really putting a damper on my motivation by mid-morning Saturday. The only goal I'd set for myself was to finish re-rigging the main sail. Originally, I had kind of guessed at how everything went together, so I had the reefing line run as the outhaul, and the outhaul connected to the topping lift. In between rain showers I got it all sorted and called it a day.

Of course, by the time we got back to Spring, it was a sunny 75 degrees. That doesn't necessarily mean it was sunny or warm in Kemah, but I was wishing I'd waited just a little longer before giving up because I haven't been out on the bay in over a month. However, the weather reports for next weekend are looking promising.

I didn't get much done the rest of the weekend. After over a week of debate, I finally decided to uninstall Norton 360 instead of renewing my subscription for another year. I now have AVG Free running on all three of my machines. Maybe that's risky, but Norton was too heavy to run on my old XP machine and my netbook anyway. I was also getting tired of the bloated pop-ups on my desktop that began displaying constantly a week before the subscription expired. A huge, intrusive pop-up telling me that my bank account info is probably being stolen right at that very moment because I haven't paid $70 is not the way to get me to pay $70. It just annoys me.

I counted the install of antivirus software as my productivity for Sunday and spent the rest of the weekend vegging out and watching movies. Get Him to the Greek was much funnier than I had ever expected it to be.

I also finally sent my entry to the Leica Explorer blogger contest. Will Leica arm me with their new V-Lux 2 and send me somewhere in the world to blog my adventures? Well, I certainly think they should.

For anyone else who is interested in the challenge, there's just a few days left to enter at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The migration continues

Since I finally stopped being a cheapass and bought a Flickr pro account, I'm continuing the migration of my photo archives. I really wanted to love Picaso since it was free, but you'd think that it would be better integrated with Flickr just has a better setup.

Anyway, I got about half my old Cabo photos moved last week. There should be more later this week or weekend when I have time to finish editing them. Due to the heartache surrounding that trip, I never really went through them until now.

I also got my Finland trip uploaded last night. I was more focused on the documentary we were shooting versus taking photos that trip, but I still snapped a few.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I built a macro converter

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm an obsessive tinkerer. I can't resist taking things apart, especially if said device is not working correctly. Sometimes I make them better. Sometimes in my attempts to repair or improve them, I deliver the coup de gras. C'est la vie.

However, I did have a small success with the camera. I managed to build a macro lens. I MIGHT have been attempting to build a teleconverter, but let's not obsess over "intended outcome" versus "succesful outcome."

I love the Leica X1 camera. The size-to-image-quality ratio is absolutely phenomenal. I'd never carry my DSLR through the streets of Austin all night, but the X1 is so light and unobtrusive, it's no problem. I only have three complaints:

1. No optical viewfinder - The screen is barely visible in bright sunlight, so while I have still been able to frame the shots, it just isn't as great as it would be with a real viewfinder. I have tried it with the add-on viewfinder, but you have to rely entirely on the auto-focus and hope that it's in focus.

2. The thumb wheel manual focus - It's so awkward, and there's no "feel" to it. With a barrel focus, you know where the focus is at by feel/position.

3. Total lack of lens adapters - The f2.8 36mm prime lens is amazing. The sharpness and focus, especially in low light, is stunning. However, 36mm is a bit limiting. Who wants to spend $2000 on a camera and still have to have a second camera to shoot birds or dolphins while they're out sailing. Lack of telephoto isn't the only problem. Try taking a photo at 36mm inside a small boat. It's just not wide-angle enough. Then there's the fact that even set to macro focus, you still can't be closer than 18 inches to the subject.

I can't do anything about the manual focus and building an electronic viewfinder would require a large HDMI converter and a separate battery pack, so that would just be a Frankensteinian monstrosity. With all that in mind, I decided to focus on adapting lenses to the camera.

Ideally a .5x wide angle converter, a 3x teleconverter, and a macro converter would create the perfect kit to accompany the X1. All of that is already available for the Panasonic-based Leica D-Lux series, yet the much more expensive, German-made X1 gets none of the love.

However, to give Leica credit, they have announced a digiscoping adapter for the X1 that will allow it to mount to their spotting scopes and microscopes. That's a start, but frankly, neither of those things are very useful to the common photographer.

I had a Nikon zoom lens sitting around the house, which no longer focused quite right. Nikon wanted $200 just to look at it, so I had ended up replacing it instead of repairing it last year. My first thought was, could I remove the aperture mechanism in this lens to create a teleconverter. The answer was, no. The rear element of the lens was way too small to work as a teleconverter. The result was major vignetting. I then decided to see what would happen if I removed the front element and added that to the X1.

To enable this, I used a Nikon UR-E8 lens tube, which has the appropriate 50mm threading to fit the X1. Unfortunately, the other end of the tube is reverse threaded. To overcome this problem I epoxied a 49 - 52mm adapter onto it. The result was the ability to add 52mm filters, hoods, etc.

To attach the front element of my Nikkor lens, I epoxied a 52-49mm adapter ring onto it. The 49mm just happened to fit tightly around a raised area on the inside of the plastic lens casing, which gave the epoxy a good grip. Using other lenses, you'd have to test fit what size works best.

Here's the result. A Leica X1 that can now focus at about 6 inches from the subject, creating beautiful macro shots.

Leica X1 Macro Converter


dog eye

Green Peppers 1

Update: I did finally have success building a teleconverter.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Boat update

My parents were in town last month for my nephew's second birthday. I proudly invited the entire family out for a day of sailing. None of them had seen the boat since we purchased it last summer when it was a half-sunk, mold-covered pile of rot. I was quite excited to show them the progress and how well the new motor ran.

I had spent the previous day connecting the oil pressure sensor and rewiring the alternator, which hadn't been charging. I thought the alternator had gone bad and bought another one, but it was just wired wrong. Chalk that up as another expensive mistake, but hey, now we have a spare alternator.

For some reason, I just can't seem to get more than two of our four gauges working at a time. Before my day of tinkering I had volt and temperature readings. After my day of tinkering I had volt and oil pressure readings, but my temperature gauge is no longer responding. Of course, the fuel gauge has remained inactive and will continue to remain useless until I get around to switching the float in the tank, which isn't currently a high priority. I'm not thrilled the temp sensor isn't working, but the tradeoff is a charging alternator, so it's worth it, and as I found out Sunday with my family aboard, the dummy light still works.

To make a long story short, after loading the family aboard and casting off, we had scarcely left the channel out of the marina when I noticed a significant lack of power. It was then that the warning light started blazing and smoke began rising from the companionway. There was nothing to do but kill the motor and go below to investigate.

In all my activity Saturday I had knocked a coolant hose loose. That had resulted in coolant being sprayed all over the engine compartment. Simple fix -- except that I'd left all my tools in the trunk of my car back on shore.

I found a bottle opener in the drawer and used it to tighten the hose clamp. Problem solved except that we now had to wait until the engine was cool enough to open the heat exchanger to add more water.

I climbed back on deck and announced that we were hoisting the mainsail to enjoy some sailing on Clear Lake. Being pointed downwind presented a little trouble as the sail kept blowing under the stays, but I eventually got it up, and we slowly made our way back and forth across the lake for the next hour.

When my pregnant sister decided she'd finally had enough sailing, I went below and put four bottle of water in the tank, crossed my fingers and fired up the diesel. Thankfully, it ran like clockwork all the way back.

I went out to do some more work Friday, but I still haven't been able to remedy the mast light problem. My new theory is that the bulbs are getting wet in the rain and shorting out. I don't know. Unfortunately, it means climbing the mast again, which just isn't fun although it may be easier in this cooler weather.

October just flew by.

It seems like I blinked and life has skipped a month. I've been so busy for the past few weeks that I can hardly keep up with everything, but I just tell myself to take a deep breath, pick one task, and then focus on it until it's finished.

I spent a week in Paris for a branding and communications conference last month. Always fun to visit, but always nice to come home to a place where people aren't stopping traffic and rioting over an increase in the retirement age. I guess that here in the U.S. we've just acknowledged that we'll never be able to retire, so we don't even bother putting on a show about social security reform anymore.

I got one day to wander the city.
wandering photographer

I went by the Paris Leica Store. That was a bit of a letdown. While I did enjoy looking at the case full of classic cameras for sale, the store was smaller than my office. I guess I expected something more like an Apple store. Maybe I'm just not used to the smaller size of European things like cars and stores and whatnot.

Anyway, a few shots from that trip (although I think a couple shots from my 2007 trip got added to the set):

After Paris was a weekend in Austin for Halloween. That was a fun trip with lots of good people watching.

Nikki and I went as sailors.

Here's the set full of wonderful weirdness:

Then, this weekend was Nikki's birthday. Despite the fact that I think they're marginally useless devices, I couldn't resist getting her an iPad.